Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hot Irish Temper

I'm one of those old fashion Irish guys who is quick to get mad and quick to forgive. That was fine as a kid, but as an adult I had to start learning how to be more mature. To do so I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and learned the universe did not randomly break things just to mess with my head.

Then I worked at a summer camp as a cabin counselor. Children are not cats, you cannot herd them. I learned to let go and just let kids be kids.

Next I taught. It turns out the average classroom has 29 Tom Sawyers and 1 Becky Thatcher. I learned students love to explore and learn, but they don't like uncertainty. If you make the classroom safe with predictable situations the students will stop trying to take over and start trying to learn.

I had a mantra when I taught 4th grade. "You have to be smarter than the kids" Meaning simply that if I got into a war of wills with the
kids I would always lose, but if I used my brain I could convince my
students they wanted to follow the rules. That worked fine for a school
day, no matter how long, because I knew eventually they would go home.
Living with children is tougher.

There is one thing for certain with my children, if I tell them to do something they will not do it.

Putting toys into a garbage pile is how they interpret cleaning up.

I thought 12 hour school days were long. Now I have kids. At 2 in the morning someone is crawling into bed. At 5 AM someone wants to get up. At 6 I'm chasing a barefoot and naked two year-old down the street. (He's naked I'm wearing a bathrobe - something I didn't even own when single) At 8 I've cleaned the kitchen twice and all I want to do is catch a bit of the morning news. This goes on and on until hopefully 8 PM but sometimes until 10 or 11.

It was a bit easier when I was a stay-at-home dad, I could create a schedule based on the life style of my kid and adapt to it. Of course that was just one kid and he wasn't walking yet. Still the ability to create a sound pattern was there, because if the kid wasn't sleeping or eating I could spend most of my attention keeping him occupied and just a grab some extra time to take care of the household duties.

It's different now. I'm actively looking for work. I have to spend several hours a day working at finding work and I also try to put in some hours learning or developing my own skills. All this cuts directly into the time I can spend one-on-one (or is it one-on-two) with my boys. I am amazed sometimes at the ability my boys have of playing independently for long periods of time. I just can't count on that time. One day they will grab the HotWheels and play for hours quietly and the next it's kicking and screaming because so and so won't let me take this car.

Of course the first instinct is to say "be quiet and let your brother play". Hoping to get a few extra minutes of work on the particular task. I might be in the flow of working, or taking a break right this second would require going back and re-doing a lot of work whereas in two minutes I'll have time to take a break. It just doesn't matter there comes a point, and you can hear it in their voices, when I as a parent I have to stop and pay attention to my kids immediately. If not I'll spend half a day sorting out my children. That isn't to say I always have to stop what I am doing when the crying starts. Sometimes children have to learn to work it out among themselves. The trick is knowing the difference.

As a teacher I learned the value of setting up a proper lesson then stepping back and letting the students learn without me getting in the way. If I tried to just get by without a strong plan things often went south quickly. More often than not the day ended up with me frustrated and the students unsure of what they were supposed to have learned. Being a parent can often be similar. If I try to get through the day thinking about what I want to get done what actually happens is I spend the entire day putting out the fires my kids started. (Not literally yet, but give them time).

So I try (remember I said try) to keep a regular schedule, be consistent when enforcing rules, and do my best to give my children enough attention first before they ask for it with screaming and kicking. What I can't do is ignore my kids and get into a 12 hour work marathon, actually if I can get an hour or two of uninterrupted work I should feel lucky.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thesis from 2000

I used to have this in electronic form but the 3.5 inch floppy is long gone. The hard copy is a bit water damaged thus the difficulty in reading. If you would like to retype or run it through an OCR and correct the typos be my guest.

I doubt it is good enough to warrant that much attention. On the other hand there are some good quotes that are still very relevant today. Please find your own and put them in the comments or I'll get to rereading it for the third time and see if I can highlight some of my favorites.

Now onto the thesis in PDF form

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Qualty of Education

In Chicago, it is
getting more dangerous to be a student. This year, we eclipsed the number of murders in March, three months before the school year ends.

The interesting twist is that according to a recent survey from the University of Chicago, many students feel safer in their classrooms than outside of them.

They just need to get to school safely and during that time they can concentrate on learning I suppose.

Here we have schools, in the much maligned U.S. education system, combating gang wars in the neighborhoods that require parents and police to escort students to and from school, so that they make sure they get there safely, along with on average 85 percent poverty rates. Yet still, students manage to improve academically, according to the NY Times.

I am proud of the improvements that have been made in the educational system of the United States over the years. I know that we will continue to make improvements. And I hope that in the future when people forward spam emails that claim schools are dumbing down the educational system in this country, they might look around and wonder if perhaps teachers might actually be doing a good job.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What is Wrong with this Picture

It is popular in some areas to complain about teachers.

  • Tenure allows bad teachers to continue working long after they have should have been fired.
    • I will admit I have met teachers that should have been fired years ago, but I also know people in all lines of work who should be fired.
  • Teachers are overpaid.
    • I know a lot of people think teachers are overpaid, but I also happen to think a lot of CEO's, bankers, politicians, and car salesmen are overpaid. Just because I think it doesn't make it right.
  • Teachers should be considered glorified babysitters because students don't learn anything anyway.
    • As for babysitter trust me it is a lot easier than teaching. Of course if people compare the prices of daycare and public school they might think twice about this comparison.
  • Those who can do; those who can't teach.
    • one of the best answers I've ever seen is here.
      • It has been said that “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” I have often wondered whether there is any truth behind this frequently quoted expression, which surgical students hear from the early days of their clinical training. To find the answer, one must look at the origin of the phrase itself—back to the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1903). Shaw, however, was referring to revolutionaries, not teachers. The phrase is, therefore, used out of context. Most of us, looking back over our training, can attribute our choice of specialty to one or more mentors—teachers so enthusiastic and inspirational that they instilled within us the desire to better ourselves and thereby better serve our patients. They taught us to think for ourselves. Most of us will also admit that these inspiring individuals were not just devoted teachers but had notably inquiring minds and were almost always exceptional clinicians.

      • Charles H Mayo (1865-1939), one of the founders of the internationally renowned Mayo Clinic, once said: “The safest thing for a patient is to be in the hands of a man involved in teaching medicine. In order to be a teacher of medicine the doctor must always be a student.” Therefore, the next time you hear Shaw quoted out of context, perhaps you might respond by quoting Mayo, a man described not only as an inspirational teacher but also as a “surgical wonder.” Perhaps those who don’t teach it can’t do it as well as they think.

        Farhad B Naini consultant in facial deformity, St George’s Hospital and Medical School, London
  • If children can't pass a simple test they aren't learning anything.
    • I don't know where to start on this one, but I will say that I have never had a job that required me to answer test questions as a regular duty. I have however been required to actually DO things for a living.

The complaints are there, but really they have little merit, outside of the tendency of people to complain whenever they get the chance.

The question then arises why am I bothering to bring it up?
Simple I want to do a bit of complaining myself.

I am complaining, but on the other-hand I do believe this flawed view of education does hurt the entire system in this country.

Think for a second if you were a business manager looking to hire an expert; what would you do?

What happens when schools are looking to hire new teachers?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Future of Schools

Should we break up large factory style schools?

Bill Gates found out that larger schools do have some advantages namely choice of classes. What they lack is the individualized student attention.

Now we have two choices we can make smaller schools and use technology to offer the wide variety of choices students can find in larger schools.

Or we can have larger schools with a better administrative structure. More of a decentralized structure al le Napoleon. With better teachers who have the knowledge, resources, and power to make positive changes.

I'm thinking it would be easier to do the former. Simply because the infrastructure building is cheaper, but also because the advantages can be given to any size school.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Teacher Skills

Check out this SlideShare Presentation: